SBJ/August 13 - 19, 2001/Olympics

Athens to show 2004 broadcasters plans on paper, nothing on the site

Rights-holding Olympic broadcasters from around the world will gather Sept. 5-7 in Athens for a closer look at preparations for the 2004 Olympic Games, which open three years from this week.

When they arrive, television brass, including newly promoted executive vice president David Neal of NBC's Olympics division, will be able to review detailed plans for the International Broadcast Center. But they won't find the construction site in Athens.

According to a sports media executive recently back from seven days of meetings in Athens, the location where the center is to be built is "a parking lot with weeds. It only exists on paper."

Athens Olympic organizers are targeting this October for the start of construction, projecting the broadcast center ready to open in February 2003. This is a departure from recent Olympic host cities Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney, where broadcast centers — the technical nerve center of Games broadcasting — were housed in existing structures to accommodate planning.

The International Broadcast Center is one of more than 20 Games venues awaiting construction or renovation in Greece, where labor strikes and work slowdowns are a cultural reality. International Olympic Committee member Denis Oswald of Sweden, chair of the panel overseeing Athens' preparations, recently acknowledged that Athens' timetable has little room for unforeseen delays.

Delays may be unavoidable. Recently, the General Secretariat of Sports, the government entity responsible for Olympics-related construction, distributed a 600-page specifications overview of the Athens broadcast center. Most of its recipients found it voluminous but troubling. It was published in Greek. Unlike the Athens Olympic organizing committee, the General Secretariat is not required to disseminate multilingual materials.

In any language, the three-year countdown to 2004 is on, with no turning back. Opening ceremonies are Aug. 13, 2004. That's Friday the 13th.

 STEERING CLEAR OF 2002: International Management Group's Robert Prazmark remains puzzled by foreign automakers' staying on the sidelines of the Salt Lake Winter Games sponsorship picture. When last an Olympics visited U.S. soil, in 1996, auto sponsors grabbed three U.S. Olympic Committee/Atlanta Summer Games categories: General Motors (U.S.), BMW (import cars) and Nissan (import trucks and sport utilities).

"Part of it is that GM has made a huge commitment, and other companies do not want to live in the shadow of that," said Prazmark, IMG's president of Olympic sales and marketing. In addition to being one of six 2002 Olympic Properties of the U.S. partners, a $20 million-plus commitment, GM provides vehicles to the USOC and Salt Lake Organizing Committee and has multiple Olympic-related ad campaigns.

The decision to invest in Olympics sponsorship is not always based on black-and-white analysis, he says. "It is also about the politics of the decision [to be a sponsor] within a given organization. The psychology of this sale goes well beyond money."

  DEALS ON WHEELS: Logistical genius or simple coincidence? Though his first stop was Colorado Springs, Colo., newly elected International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge began his Aug. 6-7 U.S. visit with a flight into Denver International Airport. This afforded USOC President Sandra Baldwin more than an hour of private discussion time with Rogge as the two were driven to the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Arriving via the Colorado Springs airport would have eliminated this window.

As American influence within the IOC is at an all-time low, Baldwin and the USOC need to establish positive dialogue with Rogge in the early days of a term that will extend at least eight years. Rogge also was expected to confer with American IOC member Anita DeFrantz, who is seeking an ad hoc, nonvoting seat on the IOC's powerful executive board even as her recent board term expired. The premise for this unusual request is that a U.S. member should have a place on the board on the eve of the Winter Games on U.S. soil.

Between NBC's television rights fees and the American corporations who pay in as global sponsors — Coca-Cola, John Hancock, Eastman Kodak, McDonald's, Sports Illustrated/Time, Visa and Xerox — the United States is the foremost Olympic Games underwriter on earth. Over the four years concluding with the Athens 2004 Games, that combined commitment is more than $1.5 billion. During that period, the rest of the world's rights holders and global sponsors will pay about $1.3 billion.

Two factors work against the United States. It has not played effectively in the important arena of global sports politics. Of the 44 international sports federations within the Olympic family, an American holds a top elected post in only four — archery, boxing, luge and softball — and none is a "TV sport." Only one is an IOC member, James Easton, the president of archery's global federation.

At a time when the United States believes it is justified in having more than four total IOC members, the IOC is pledging to reduce its voting body as part of a reform effort.

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